Friday, April 28, 2006

Stand and Cheer

The orchestra was obviously amateur, albeit dedicated to their craft. Strings were out of tune, the lone tuba blatted and rumbled all afternoon, making even Smetana’s “Moldau” a Concerto for Tuba. Tempi, as they were, were fluid…like molasses. A few bright spots, but overall a pretty messy affair. They said their next concert would feature the huge Mahler 3rd. I think I’ll pass on that one.

When it was all said and done, they got a standing ovation from some of the audience.


Audiences are standing and cheering for the most mediocre performances these days. Now, the less cynical will tell me that a lot of the audience members at this performance were friends, family and partisans. So they stood to cheer on their team. I guess that is fine if this was a sporting event. But to me, the standing ovation is becoming more common, and in that, cheapening and lessening its significance.

I am picky about my standing ovations. I stood and cheered the recent performance of the Mozart 41st by the KC Symphony as it was a stellar, uniquely satisfying performance. I cheered the Scheherazade a few months ago, as it was a revelation. As much as I loved the Shostakovich 10th, it did not merit me standing and cheering.

If a performance does not merit a standing ovation, then the performers and leaders consider it a failure. We have stood and cheered so much for so little that it is expected, it is the norm. It fosters mediocrity. The orchestra I heard will pat themselves on the back and not fix the problems they could easily fix. They will think they were wonderful.

I remember the first performance I was in that merited a standing ovation. It was the Trinity UMC Choir performing the Rutter Gloria. We were good, we nailed every note, and passages that were problematic came off perfectly. We wowed them, we deserved it. I have been in performances that have received ovations that were not as deserved.

I guess curbing the enthusiasm of the audience is not going to happen. And I suppose that I should be thrilled that the audiences are responding to the performances in a positive way. But I still have the nagging feeling we reward mediocrity by over demonstrating our enthusiasm. If a standing ovation is expected and the norm, then how do we truly reward the unique and sublime? Throw money I guess.

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